The spotted hampala barb (hampala dispar) is a relatively common fish in the Mekong River watershed that eagerly takes flies and lures. It also puts up a great fight for its size. Also known as the eye-spot barb, these fish are close relatives of the hampala barb. Their ranges significantly overlap too, so it’s quite possible to catch both species from the same area.
Spotted hampala barbs have large scales somewhat similar to other cyprinids such as the common carp, and quite a lot of bones. Spotted hampala barbs are eaten across their range, yet they remain plentiful. They aren’t necessarily the most popular food fish in the region. They taste okay, but they aren’t the most delicious fish you can find. Still, you can find spotted hampala barbs in a lot of markets in Southeast Asia that sell fresh fish.
These fish are enthusiastic feeders that often travel in schools. They can attack prey fish, shrimp, and insects with a sort of pack mentality. A group of feeding spotted hampala barbs can cause quite the stir. Yet at other times you might not even know they were there unless you hooked into a fish. Spotted hampala barbs are good fighters that are a lot of fun to catch on rod and reel.
How to find and identify the spotted hampala barb
Spotted hampala barbs are slender and sleek fish. Their elongated bodies are covered with large scale in shades of silver and gold. The most distinguishing feature is the black circle found in the middle of their bodies. They also have red tails with black edges. They’re fairly easy to identify, though they could be confused with some other barbs.
This spotted hampala barb was caught in Cambodia
The spotted hampala barb looks almost identical to the hampala barb. The Latin word “dispar” in the fish’s scientific name means “different” and refers to the difference in the markings between the two similar species. While the hampala barb has a dark black vertical slash mark in the middle of its body, the spotted hampala bar has a black spot. The spot can be dark black or faded, but it’s there.
The spotted hampala barb is native to the Mekong River drainage. It inhabits rivers, streams, and lakes. It may also have been introduced to some other waters by humans or even flooding during the rainy season. The fish lives in Cambodia, Laos, and parts of Thailand and Vietnam. In clearer waters you will sometimes see them darting about and feeding. If not, look for areas where they can feed around cover.
Spotted hampala barbs are one of the larger barbs, but they do not grow to mammoth proportions. The world record spotted hampala barb was caught in Northeast Thailand in 2013. It weighed just 1 pound 8 ounces (0.69 kg). Average fish are obviously smaller than that. I normally catch them in the 6 to 12 inch range weighing up to half a pound.
How to catch the spotted hampala barb
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I’ve caught a lot of spotted hampala barb in Siem Reap Creek in Cambodia. I often find them mixed in with hampala barbs, but in Siem Reap Creek the spotted barbs are a lot more common. They tend to be a lot larger too. Although the hampala barb can grow larger, the spotted hampalas tend to be the bigger fish in Siem Reap Creek.
A lot of times I will sight fish for spotted hampala barbs. It can take some time to scope them out, especially when the water turns turbid and discolored. I often find them feeding on the small fry of other fish like tilapia and snakehead. Oftentimes I’ll find a tilapia nest or snakehead guarding its fry only to see hampala barbs picking off the baby fish one by one.
This nice spotted hampala hit a Spearhead Ryuki
Other times I simply fish lures in areas when I think spotted hampala barbs may be. I keep moving and cover a lot of water that way. As long as I am using a lure that works, I am confident in this method of finding fish. It usually works for me. Spotted hampala barb will aggressively chase down and hit lures like the Original Floating Rapala and Spearhead Ryuki in natural colors. Sometimes I have to pitch the lures into bathtub-sized openings in the vegetation. Then I can just give them a few jerks before moving on to another hole in the grass. Sometimes this is all it takes. Other times I fan cast in large open areas to cover all the water.
Spotted hampala will hit top water lures like the Hula Popper. But they don’t seem to commit as much to the bite. So you get a lot of short strikes and end up empty handed. The same goes for some of the soft plastic swimbait jigs like Z-Man Minnowz. A lot of times the fish just end up biting off their tails.
When it comes to fly fishing, dry flies like foam hoppers and even dog biscuits will draw hits from spotted hampala barbs, but you get a lot of swirling and false takes too. I find that streamers fished with an active retrieve work a lot better. They fish hunt down the flies and fully commit to the bite. As long as you can get your casts off and find enough open water to fish, bead head woolly buggers and Muddler minnows will catch plenty of spotted hampala barbs.